Adding to the collection
Heady as early spring may be, it’s also time for the down-to-earth tasks of assessing, reevaluating, and finding room for new acquisitions (Susan confesses to an ever-expanding “lust list”). “There are always things that have fried, died or frozen, creating gaps,” she says, “or you have an oopsy,” meaning plants to move to a better spot or remove entirely. “And we have to edit. For instance, I put in a lot of red epimedium (Epimedium ×rubrum) originally. When I find a new one such as ‘Pink Champagne’, I’ll whip out some of the red one to make space.
“Also, the garden is coming up to 12 years old and some things just wear out their welcome and need replacing—out went an old-fashioned white peony, for example, and in went a gorgeous little hydrangea,” explains Susan. When space is at a premium, “sometimes you have to be ruthless, and share with friends,” she says cheerfully, indicating a clump of unusual upright wild ginger (Saruma henryi) that was hacked in half and distributed.
Even her beloved hellebores aren’t exempt. A planting of Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius) proved too floppy and was replaced with a ‘Hansel’ rhododendron underplanted with trilliums. Other hellebores have been fearlessly transplanted (though they are said to resent disturbance). “Simply take up as big a root system as you can. Be brave!” says Susan, adding, “I’ve moved several away from shrubs to give them more light. Hellebores are often billed as shade plants, but part sun is better. The best was the double white ‘Mrs Betty Ranicar’—I replanted her and she never looked back.” That said, she cautions that you must have patience: “New plants do need some time to bulk up.”
Given her fondness for nurseries, sales and auctions, unearthing new hellebores won’t be a problem for Susan Koelink, and, as befits a true collector, she’ll always find room for one more.
Hellebore buying tip
Although more hellebores are being propagated by tissue culture, producing plants that are identical, most seed strains are unpredictable and may vary in colour, form and markings (spots, veining, dark centres or picotee edges). The best way to be sure of what you’re getting is to buy plants in bloom.